Monday, 24 December 2012

Christmas Carols

I worked a full day today at the Hole-Making Shop.

We were very, very busy, which was good.

Staffing levels, however, were not at their optimum this morning, so there was a degree of grump going on.........

So, first thing, I bought my colleagues a bacon sandwich each from the canteen. ( Fortunately, Our Sylvia, the lovely lady who looks after us, food-wise, didn't get carried away and garnish them with holly..... Could have been nasty).

Things were a lot less snippy after that........

(It is amazing really, the effect that something as simple as the receipt of an unexpected bacon banjo can have.......)

It was a very busy and very fruitful day, with lots of holes made and good stuff extracted.

Mark The Engineer (see blogposts passim), came in late this afternoon to have a hole made, and very kindly gave me a lift home. (The Hairdresser's car is hors de combat, and Jackie needed the Volkswagen today so had given me a lift to work).

I would like to point out that Mark and I didn't stop off at "The Sun" in Waterbeach on our way home, which showed great strength of character, I feel....

(Mind you, we did on Friday, with Jane. This turned into a bit of an epic Gargle-Fest......


We pulled up at The Parish behind Jackie and Rhoda who were in the Volks. They had been shopping and were all fired up to go to the carol service at Ely Cathedral.

In twenty minutes time.

Sad to relate, my heart died within me.

I was simply too knackered.

Once aboard Pippin, I opened a beer, sat down on the sofa, took a sip, and promptly fell asleep.

Jackie and Rhoda tip-toed out to sing while I snored.

I awoke to the sound of heavenly choirs.

This always worries me................

I immediately think the old bod has finally given up the ghost and the sound of celestial song is the precursor to a heated argument with Saint Peter about whether or not I am, in fact, on the guest-list........

No need to worry this evening.

The sound of old and familiar carols was wafting across the fen from Waterbeach village.

Methinks t'was the choir and congregation of the C of E Church of St John the Evangelist giving it some seasonal welly.

Absolutely lovely!

I am about to open a rather decent bottle of red which will have got its breath nicely by the time J and R get back from Ely, just in time for canapes and a pizza or two.

I'd better sample it first, just to make sure it's drinkable...........

Wherever you are, I raise my glass to you.

May your Christmas be a happy one, and the New Year bring you peace.


John and Jackie Pippin.


Saturday, 15 December 2012


In the spirit of moving on, away from letting other people's boats suck-up all my free time like blotting paper, Jackie and I have been getting some more work done on Pippin.

Our bow doors were replaced this Easter by Martin Kedian of Kedian Engineering.

Today, he, Jason and Trevor came back to fit the two new side hatches and the stern doors.

Mortimer Bones recommended them to us, and we are very happy to add our own endorsement.

In short, and in my favourite vernacular, (rural Dorset), 'Proper Job!'

Here's some pictures:

Enter man, stage left, carrying a hammer......

Interior shielding...........

Removing hinges on the old side hatches using hammer, cold chisel, and main force.

The new hatches arrive in their own purpose-built clip which is then attached to the boat. A water-tight fit is guaranteed.

The man on the right, Martin himself, is not running away..... He is shielding the window from sparks.


More grinding.........

Some cutting........

Some tweaking................                                                                                                                                       
Offering up............

Securing with tres butch self-tappers......

Et viola, with coat of grey primer ready for a coat of International 'Pippin Blue'.

More photos of the finished job in top-coat with pictures of the varnished oak interior lining to follow.............



Thursday, 13 December 2012

"The time of endings........

has itself now ended.

The age of new beginnings has at last begun....."

Such are the opening lines of a poem written for a broken-hearted lady.

It was a poem written by me, many, many years ago, for my friend Lynn Wills.

Last time I spoke to her, about ten or twelve years ago, the only copy was in her loft.

It's probably just as well.......

I'm a crap poet.


'The time of endings..............'.

We none of us mourn our lost loved ones less, but time is time, and it moves on.

Thank you, Jaq, for your words of such great kindness.

We've never met, but that don't signify.

You are a friend.

Thank you.

Thank you, Bones, for your blessing.

And to be called 'brother'..............

You honour me.

Thank you.

I'll mention Johnny again for sure, and with love, but the awful loss is just going to bore you all.

And I'd die myself before admitting to having a boring bone in my body!!!

So I'm going to keep that stuff to myself now, and with you lot, move on.......


What's been happening down in Groove Town........?

Well, Mark and I went round to our Gentleman's boat on Sunday and did a diesel compression test.

The results were as follows:

No.1 cylinder: 10 bar

No.2 cylinder: 15 bar

No.3 cylinder: 15 bar

No.4 cylinder: 12 bar

Bearing in mind the working compression ratio of a BMC 1.5 is about 25:1 and that 1 bar equals atmospheric pressure, it is quite clear that this engine is dead, it has ceased to be, it has shuffled off this mortal coil, and is, in every respect, bleedin' dead. It wouldn't "voom" if you put 40,000 volts through it.

It is totally and utterly and irredemably forked.

So what to do?

Bearing in mind our Gentleman is a rum old cove, and not blessed with a superfluity of social skills or graces, having been, in turn, rude, patronising, ungrateful, and, at times, just plain nasty to those who were trying to help him, what, dear readers, do you think we should do?

Steady now...............

Some of those thoughts just aren't nice.......

(And I have a newly repaired Auntie Mary Filter (TM) to consider..... I mean, for heaven's sake, there was nearly a major nuclear accident last time we over-loaded it!)

Cut me some slack, here, people, please....

Well, I wrote our Gentleman a letter this morning.

This is what it said:

Dear Gentleman,

Mark and I came round to your boat on Sunday and carried out a diesel compression test.

The results were as follows:

No. 1 cylinder: 10bar

No.2 cylinder: 15 bar

No.3 cylinder : 15 bar

No.4 cylinder: 12 bar:

This is a huge difference between cylinders.

It means that, internally, the engine is heavily worn.

In its current state, it will simply not be possible to get it to start or run.

Remedying the problem would involve removing the engine again, completely dismantling it, having the worn engine block re-machined and the fitting of new over-size pistons and piston rings, new seals and gaskets. The crankshaft would need to be checked too, and given the heavy wear to the rest of the engine, it is highly likely that it too would need re-grinding, balancing and re-fitting with new over-size bearing shells, gaskets and seals.

In short, the only “reconditioning” this engine has ever had is a very thick coat of green paint.

Our original brief was to get you out of trouble by fitting what you had been told was a reconditioned engine.

That we have done, for free, in our own spare time.

Neither James, Mark, nor I can carry out the remedial work the engine requires: we simply do not have the time or the facilities.

Neither do we have the time to help you locate a viable engine and then fit it for you.

However, all is not complete doom and gloom:

1)      We have successfully constructed  new metal engine mounts suitable for a BMC 1.5 engine.
2)       We have lined-up and bolted new flexible mounts to them.
3)      We have fitted a new “Centaflex” coupling to the propshaft.

This means another BMC 1.5 ( or possibly 1.8 as I believe the engine mounts are the same for both) will bolt straight in.

If you buy another engine, have it checked first by an indepedent engineer.

If it is advertised as ‘reconditioned’, then there should be receipts for machining and new parts to support this.

Your existing engine still has a residual value.

Most reconditioners only supply the engine, not the marinisation parts that make it able to be used in a boat. Your engine has all of these, which include things like the Bowman heat exchanger, inlet and exhaust manifold, starter motor, alternator and flywheel.

Do not dispose of these as you may need them if you buy a reconditioned engine.

The engine itself also has a value: someone will want it for spare parts or to recondition it, so don’t allow anyone to ‘take it away for you’…….. Remember, you got nearly £400 for the engine sold on ebay………..

The gearbox supplied with the engine currently fitted in your boat is an unknown quantity. It is a Paragon gearbox and is very likely of 1:1 ratio, meaning it has no reduction and is probably not suitable for your propeller. If it is in the same condition as the engine it came with (highly likely), then it, too, will need expensive remedial work anyway.

It is best replaced and sold-on for what you can get for it.

So if you get another engine, get another gearbox too.

Newage PRM is a good reliable make. You will probably need a gearbox with a reduction ratio of 2:1, though this depends on the size of the propeller fitted to your boat. This will need to be checked before you get another gearbox.

To get you started, I have enclosed some adverts for engines I found on the ebay and Apollo Duck websites.

I suggest you show this letter to The Nice Man at the boatyard in Ely. He may be able to help you find and fit a working engine and work out which gearbox is best for that engine and your existing propeller.

I hope you are up and running soon!

Kind regards,


Writing that gave me no pleasure.

I almost felt as if I had failed.

Then I remembered the enormous amount of effort that Mark and James have put in.....

For bugger-all in the way of thanks, never mind renumeration............

I know he will say 'They let me down....'

I do not care what he says.

We did no such thing.

'The time of endings has itself, now ended,

The age of new beginnings has at last begun.............'

We move on.

Monday, 10 December 2012


My Uncle John's funeral was a beautiful affair.

The morning clouds that threatened rain parted to glorious sunshine.

The little church in Bucklebury was absolutely packed.

My cousin Vicky read a children's story that had Her dad in the title role of the friendly, generous giant. (For as she said, though he wasn't physically big, he was a giant of a man.....)

My cousin Sarah spoke movingly of John, and all he meant to them and to us all.

My Uncle David, John's older brother, stood tall and read without quaver, courage and sadness combined in an indomitable strength.......

We carried him in, Geoff, Nick, Jim and I.

And we carried him out too, for as Geoff said, Johnny would never have left us anywhere, so we certainly weren't going to leave him.

I haven't mentioned this before, but John loved machines, steam trains especially.

At the end of the service, before we pall-bearers bore him away, the sound of a steam train entered the church.

It sounded to me like an LNER compound..... (Johnny would have known....) but it had a Western whistle, long, low, mournful.......... fading into the distance.

I'd been doing sort of okay up to then, but that did it.

I wept.

The train was departing, bearing our departed away.

Next stop, Heaven.

I've missed out so much that was good on that day: so many people, such kindness in sad eyes and weary faces.

Sorry if I've missed you out.

I can't write any more now.


Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Great Library of Alexandria.

There is a wonderful old African saying;

"When a wise man dies, a library burns....."

My Uncle John Coles was wise.

An architect.

A practical man who was never happier than when mending something broken, (something that usually belonged to someone else.......)

Son of a garage-man, the great Eric Coles, who was as old as motor cars......

Mender of the sickly automobile.....

Curer of all mechanical ills......

Fixer of pretty much any stuff that needed fixing......


Loving husband to Christine, father to Caroline, Sarah and Vikki, Grandad to Theo and Zak.....

Brother to David and to Ann.

Best Man to my Dad when Dad married Ann, my Mum..........

Father-in-law to  Phil, Jim and Nick.......

Uncle to me and Nikki.

Godfather to me.

To everyone else, he was Johnny.

To all of us, he was Johnny.

Johnny the decent, the kind, the generous, the thoughtful, the good of heart........

Johnny the wise, the clever, the sideways-thinking-solution-finder...........

Johnny the patient.........

PAUSE: ......................BREATHE .............

What lives beyond the fire? The ashes? The library destroyed?

We do.

We carry that which  we learned of you with us.

It will not fade nor fail us, and it will be with us always.

Thankyou, Johnny.


Proud shall I stand as your pall-bearer.


And Proud.

But, oh, the library burns. The library burns......

And my tears shall not quench the flames.


Tuesday, 27 November 2012

The Lutine Bell.

Let it toll.

Let the market cease....

Let there be silence.........

For there is a loss..............................


A great and irredemable loss.

My beloved Uncle John died suddenly on Saturday.

So let the bell toll.

And let there be silence.


And silent tears.


Friday, 23 November 2012

Emergency Ward Ten.......


The screens!!!"

I have three new, but now VERY knackered, Elecsol 110a/h deep cycle batteries on life-support in Pippin's kitchen, hooked up toJames's battery charger.....

(The picture on the box turned out not to be Kitchener after all, by the way......

It's Michael Faraday.......)

Pippin's Pramac P6000s generator has been pouring-forth life-giving amps for some hours now......

Lights on machines glow.

Machines bleep............

It's touch and go.........

Where the flippin' Henry is Dr Kildare when you need him, eh?



How the heck did THIS happen?

Well, as C.W. McCall once said, " That's a long story, Harold............"

(Google him and click on the audio recording of his track 'Classified': It's a hoot.............. And BTW, anyone whose gone car-shopping with me in the last year really should hear this if they haven't already!)

Good, isn't it?!

Okay, so, back at The Gentleman's boat.......

My last post (and I use the term advisedly.....) concerning this vessel, it's engine and it's sometimes challengingly behavioured owner, had me and James fitting some sprauncey new leisure batteries.

No problems there, you might well think.

Job done.

Off home.

Guinness and a welcome sleep.

The sleep of the just...........



Okay, so we thought everthing was ticketty-boo, because I hadn't heard a thing from Our Gentleman since the battery fitting episode.

One assumes 'no negative feedback'  = ' happy camper'...

Oh no.

Oh dear me, no.

Oh no no no no no...........

Far from it, in fact.

His mobile isn't receiving voicemail from my mobile.......

Many a message and oft has, therefore, disappeared up the ether. ......

Or so it would seem.


Is it me?

Or would a relay of native runners carrying messages in cleft sticks not be more efficient?


Our Gentleman rocks up at The Hole Making Shop, full of the joys, and aware that something had happened over the weekend because he got back from choir on Sunday to find his fridge revving like a bastard and his milk frozen solid.....

(That'll be the effect of some amps, then........)

In short, unable, as he was, to access my numerous mobile answerphone messages, he was non-plussed as to why all his boat's electrical systems were suddenly working as their designer intended.

Which would have been fine.

Absolutely fine.

No problem.

Not a worry in the world.


the bastard bloody lpg powered electrical generator that was installed by some clueless numpty and fellow rip-off merchant recommended by the low-down-no-good-thieving-douche-bag who ripped Our Gentleman off over the engine in the first place, hadn't broken down.

Broken down the day before James and I, all unwitting, installed three brand new 110 a/h deep cycle batteries.


In short, because of mobile phone issues, the gentleman didn't know he had new batteries.

I didn't know (until I saw him, viva voce, at the Hole Making Shop), that the useless piece of crap that the thieving banderlog have passed-off on him as a viable generator has ceased to be, (and, quite literally, 'shuffled off this mortal coil'), thus leaving the beautiful new gorgeous and doomed to die batteries we installed to a fate worse than flat.....

At £106 a pop, to boot.

Good grief.

I am so frustrated with the sheer bad luck of it all that I could spit my teeth out.

One by one.

(I don't yet do dentures.....)



Day off from Hole Making Shop.....

Day spent in the bilges of Our Gentleman's boat.......


Task one:

Remove several gallons of rainwater which has accumulated in the bilge because:

a) It's been raining hard, a lot............

b) the deck drainage system on this particular crap-barge dumps all the water from the roof and aft-deck straight into the engine room.

c) working on electrics while standing in four inches of water is a mugs game.

d) Our Gentleman needs to observe how this is done and actually have a go at a bit in order to improve his coping skills.

Task two:

Try to hook up a borrowed petrol generator to the battery bank.

Nice try. No cigar...... I failed because the coupling is a 32-36 amp beast of nearly 2 & 1/4 inches diameter. Needless to say, no Spark Shops in Ely were able to supply such an item, depite a thorough and time consuming search of several.  Kev from wb Avalon got close with the offer of the lend of the right size coupling, but it was male, not female.....  (Ooh look, there goes another molar........)

Task three:

Remove the quivering and heavily traumatised Elecsol leisure batteries installed last weekend, and take them to a place of safety.

Task four:

Put the old, knackered-and-therefore-no-more-harm-can-come-to-them batteries back in place so Our Gentleman still has some vestige of light etc. (These tasks all involved a trolley and many walks to and from the car which was parked as close as I could get it, a mere ten minutes away.......)

Task five:

Place traumatised Elecsol batteries on life-support in Pippin's kitchen hooked up to James's battery charger.

Before emergency treatment commenced, the multimeter was showing between 10.2 and 10.6 amps.........

The prognosis is not good..............

They are going to be in the I.C.U. for some time.....

I'm going to charge all three up as best I can, then, having left them for a bit, do a voltage drop test.

Please keep your fingers crossed!


Oh, and Our Gentleman was  very polite today, apologising at least twice for taking up all of my day off.

He even offered me a cup of tea!

But there was no milk, despite one of Europes largest branches of Tesco's being just across the way.

So I went without.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012



I know...............

I really should get out more......

However, today is a palindromic date.


It reads the same backwards as forwards.

It is both elegant and beautiful.

So where were you at the moment of The Double Palindrome?

(i.e. eleven minutes and twelve seconds past nine o'clock in the evening.......)

And where will you be for the last sequential date of this century?

December 11th 2013....

11/12/13.......  ? ...........

Especially, at ten past nine in the morning?

I'll leave you to ponder that while I go for a lie-down..........

The 'embers of the year......

I woke up early this morning to the rhythmic drumming of heavy rain on Pippin's roof.

I got up, made a cup of tea and lit the fire.

Work has been hard of late, and there has been little cheer to brighten these grey days.

For we are into the embers of the year.

Nov and Dec.............


Always seems like the end of something. And endings are sad sometimes.

My good friend Mark (The Engineer) has had to have his beloved labrador Ollie put down.

He is very sad.

Mark doesn't have a blog himself, yet. He's waiting until he gets his boat, I think........

But if you feel moved to leave a message for him on this one, please do.

(For some reason known only unto himself, he does read this rubbish......)

It may help, a bit, to cheer him up.........

I am also feeling a bit down on the mouth.

The days shorten and the gargantuan commercialised juggernaut that is Christmas looms ever closer, with it's now unrealistically high expectations of a purchased joy and a fragile, momentary truce that looks like peace and goodwill, but is, in truth, but tinsel, dearly leased, and owned by usurers.

But strike up, brave heart! And be glad!

I've been looking back through wb Pippin's photo library.

Here's some pictures to remind us that it isn't always rainy, sad and grey.........

Well, I don't know about you, but I'm feeling heaps better.......


Monday, 19 November 2012

Batteries and engines...... Boats and boating........

Just a quick update really , on the 'progress' on The Gentleman's Engine.

James and I drove over to Ely in The Boatmobile on Sunday morning, armed with three new leisure batteries, more Bradex Easy-start, a monster set of jumper-cables, a grimly determined set to our jaw and steely glint in the eye.

Today was to be the day when we would signal to C-in-C East Anglian Approaches, repeated, Admiralty, that 'We have main engine start'.

(The Engineer couldn't be with us as he was otherwise engaged, but I reckoned with James's knowledge of Things That Spark and my inate ability to lift and carry heavy stuff, there was a fair to middlin' chance that, between us, we'd crack it.)

The batteries had been obtained from Andy at Midsummer Energy: proper-job deep-cycle 110 AH gel jobs by Elecsol. The gentleman has paid me for these which I had obtained on his behalf, by the way......  Our mission was to fit them.

(Oh, and remove the old batteries.

We put a multimeter over their terminals, just for a laugh.

10.2 amps........

Ooh lawdy......

Anyway, I'm going to take them to the scrap yard off Newmarket Road on Thursday to get Mr Grumpy some money back.....

Do you think he'll be pleased?

What's the chances?.......... :-)

Anyway, James hooked up the spiffy new Elecsol jobs to The Gentleman's boat. (He, by the way, was out all morning, and hasn't yet rung me, so we don't know if he's noticed any difference.......)

But hey, things may just be looking a little, shall we say, brighter, even for one whose sole reason for existence seems to be to polish his impersonation of Eeyore to perfection...........

Then we got serious.

I'd taken Pippin's starter battery with us, as well as that from The Gentleman's boat, which we had re-charged on the way back from Ely the previous week.

(Pippin's battery was replenished off the mains using a most splendid battery charger that once belonged to James's Grandfather.

 I was particularly taken with the picture of Kitchener on the box......)

Using the the Mother and Father of all jump-leads, we wired the two starter batteries up in series, sprayed vast quantities of Bradex Easy-start into the air intake, crossed our fingers and turned the key.....

Well, it coughed again.

And it fact, rattled.......

(See me afterwards, whoever at the back said it was a 'death rattle!').

We chose to deem this 'progress', and hid the tools before adjourning to Tesco for a cup of tea and a wad.

(This was, you understand , to allow the starter motor to cool.......

And it was lunchtime............)

Anyway, we returned refreshed.

Another prolonged burst of Easy-start and churn of the starter motor produced only a lot of greyish smoke and more coughing.......

The coughing sound reminded me of that which a cat makes when a it is regurgitating a ball of hair it has ingested through too much grooming.........

In both Engineering and Veterinary colleges worldwide, this is known as the 'Fur Cough'.......

The unpleasant matt of hair that is produced is likewise known as a 'Quinelle'.......

A 'Fur Quinelle'.....

"James," quoth I, "I am tired, cold and bored of this.  That was the engine's equivalent of a "Fur Quinelle", so it is high time for us both to "Fur Cough."

And so we did.

More soon............

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Solar Electric Dreams II: The Dark Knight is Banished!

A very long time ago, I posted a blog entitled 'Solar Electric Dreams'.

In it, I mentioned we were thinking about getting more solar panels, and was wondering what would we do with all the spare power......

I think I tried to re-write some basic laws of physics in a way which would have left deep cracks in the di-lithium crystals of Wb Pippin's warp engines......

(Renewed thanks to Mike P-J for pointing out the error of my ways and setting my feet upon the right path!

It could have been very nasty, otherwise......)


More solar we have got.

And How!

Yes, we have gone for broke and installed another six panels. (This brings the total up to ten........)

Here's how it happened:

 Andy Rankin and colleague Dave meet wb Pippin at the 48's at Clayhithe.

First job: move the existing solar bank aft about 18"- 2ft in order that the new panels won't be too close to the pump-out ports in the roof..........

Andy Rankin and Dave from Midsummer Energy are absolutely brilliant.

I don't monetise this blog.

And I'm not taking a bung from anyone for saying so, but if you are looking for domestic or marine renewable energy, be it solar panels or wind turbines, look no further than Midsummer Energy.

Andy's modus operandi is that he's in business 'to make a living, not a killing.'

You won't go wrong ordering whatever you need from him.......

Here's the finished job:

So thats a lot of solar for the sunshine plus a Rutland 913 wind turbine for when it gets dark.......

Okay, now I expect some gruesome nay-sayer is going to question the wisdom of this......

I mean, you can buy an awful lot of red diesel for the price of the panels.......

And we'll never see our money back.....!

However, that's not what it's about...........

And neither is it about being a serial tree-hugger.

It's about convenience.

We sometimes need to leave Pippin for a few days.

It's nice to be able to do that, even in winter, sure in the knowledge that we can return to a 12 volt fridge-freezer full of preserved comestibles, not a science project gone wrong, (and a seriously knackered battery bank) without having to trouble our neighbours with turning our generator on, etc.....

And this, in winter.......

Yes, after the extra panels were installed, I noticed the battery monitor showing 7 amps charge

 Okay, it was a bright and sunny November day, but the fridge-freezer was running at the time........

The fridge-freezer drawers between 7 and 9 amps......

So the actual supply was 14 amps minimum.......

I am going to have a serious chat with Mr Rankin about a separate hot water tank with 12 volt immersion-heater coils in it to dump some of the otherwise wasted load, come summer time.

Or I could buy a telly....

Or a hairdryer.......

Or an arc-welder........


But for now,  in winter, 'De Profundis', we still ain't going to get that much off the solar.......

Which is why I want to augment our lone Rutland 913 with a twin brother in the bows......

BUT, Jackie doesn't want her boat turned into a Chinook.

And another narrowboater friend has opined that there is a very real risk that, in anything other than a light breeze, we'll take off.........


Lets bring it on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You can never be too thin, too rich, or have access to too many amps........